Mohammad Mahjoub Ends Hunger Strike - Secret Trial Detainee "Wins" Most Demands, but at What Cost?
September 24, 2005, Toronto -- As he lay in the medical unit of Metro West Detention Centre last night on Day 79 of a hunger strike, a weak, exhausted Mohammad Mahjoub gave his consent to a written agreement with the province of Ontario that promised his long-standing demands for proper medical treatment would be met.
In a letter received by Mahjoub's legal counsel, Barbara Jackman, the province has promised to allow medical specialists into Metro West to assess Mr. Mahjoub's medical conditions, including Hepatitis C and a knee injury. The province has agreed as well that it will respect the medical advice of those specialists and abide by their recommendations, including, if need be, hospitalization.
Earlier in the week, Mahjoub finally received a pair of eye glasses (eight months after they were prescribed), and although they did not fit, he is likely to get them within a few weeks. Mahjoub also received a written agreement that officials at the detention centre would work to ensure that family visits would not be subject to the kind of arbitrary interference and outright denial that have marked the past five years.
However, the issue of contact visits with his children remains unresolved and, given the government's absolute refusal to consider the possibility, Mahjoub vows to pursue this demand through the courts.
Speaking from Metro West Detention Centre this morning, Mahjoub wanted to thank people around the world who have showed tremendous support during his hunger strike. "I thank every individual, starting from my wife, Mona, my kids, my lawyers, my support committee in Toronto, and every individual … for their support and their sympathy. I ask Allah to reward them all and … to make them soft in their hearts towards one another."
Friends, family and supporters of Mr. Mahjoub, whose hunger strike has provoked international coverage and outrage, are troubled that such a simple agreement --doctors see a patient, doctors recommend hospitalization, patient receives hospitalization if required -- should have to take such a potentially lethal toll on Mr. Mahjoub. While pleased that Mr. Mahjoub has ended his hunger strike, they note he will likely suffer health complications from this 79-day hunger strike for the rest of his life. Why, they ask, couldn't the province have intervened months ago?
Mahjoub had long been denied hospitalization for a recommended liver biopsy for undisclosed "security" reasons, so he was just as surprised as everyone else when he was briefly hospitalized last Tuesday for a short battery of tests, none of which related to Hepatitis C or his knee injury. Supporters of Mahjoub question the medical ethics of those doctors who told him he could likely go another 10 days to two weeks on hunger strike and had him returned to prison.
Mona Elfouli, who along with her children, has struggled every day of the last three months with the consequences of her husband's hunger strike, is grateful for the support of so many people across Canada and around the world who put pressure on the provincial and federal governments.
"Now we need to put that same pressure on the governments so they can stop the secret trial security certificates and return my husband and the other men who are still in jail to their families," she said last night, in reference to the Secret Trial Five, all subject to years of Canadian detention without charge on secret evidence.
Mahjoub, like a victim of famine, is still in critical shape, and it will be a long and difficult climb back as he begins to eat, his health still very much in question. As he recovers from the hunger strike, he still faces many stresses: he awaits word on whether he may be released on bail, thus ending his indefinite detention, and on whether the Canadian government will continue pursuing his deportation to torture or death in Egypt.
Hassan Almrei, a Syrian refugee who has spent the past 47 months in solitary confinement, ended a 73-day hunger strike September 3 at Metro West, and will go to court on October 11 seeking a court order allowing him the same rights as other federal inmates, including one hour of fresh air and exercise for his own knee injury. He too is awaiting a bail decision and is fighting government attempts to deport him to torture or death in Syria.
Secret trial detainee Mahmoud Jaballah, also at Metro West for over four years, is currently challenging the provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act which prevent him from applying for bail while he fights deportation to torture or death in Egypt.
In Ottawa, secret trial detainee Mohamed Harkat, held almost three years, will apply for bail at the end of October, while in Montreal, Adil Charkaoui, released in February under draconian conditions, will launch an application in early October calling for an end to his security certificate given the mental torture it has inflicted on him and his family. Both Harkat and Charkaoui are fighting deportation to torture or death in Algeria and Morocco, respectively.
Protests against secret trials continue to grow across Canada, and this week coast-to-coast actions occurred, closing with a 24-hour vigil of support for Mahjoub in Vancouver. On Wednesday, groups and individuals including former Solicitor General Warren Allmand, the Committee for Justice for Mohamed Harkat, Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, Amnesty International, and Canadian Council for Refugees appeared before a Parliamentary subcommittee reviewing secuirt legislation, calling for an abolition of security certificates.